An Extreme Recognition

Goldstein (2011) explains that long-term memory is the system “responsible for storing information for long periods of time” (149). This area of our memory archives past events and knowledge throughout our lives. In the article “London Police ‘Super Recognizer’ Walks Beat with a Facebook of the Mind,” an impressive example of long-term memory is displayed.

This article surrounds Constable Gary Collins, a police officer in London’s metropolitan police force. Collins is an exceptional police officer, largely in part of his gift as a “super recognizer”. Collins has the special gift to recall facial powers, matching even low-quality and partial imagery to faces he has seen before – whether being on the street, or in a database from years earlier. For example, Collins was able to correctly identify Mr. Prince, a wanted felon, from a “blurry silhouette of a man with a black woolen hat pulled over his forehead and a red bandana covering everything but his eyes” (Bennhold 2015). Super recognizers far exceed the abilities of facial recognition software, such as in Collins’ case, where he was able to correctly identify 180 faces while the software could only identify one suspect out of 4,000.

In a related study by Richard Russell and colleagues (2014), two studies were conducted on people like Collins who claimed they were super recognizers. The first test was a Before They Were Famous test, where subjects viewed photographs of famous individuals as children and were asked to identify the individual. The second test was the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which used images of males with no hair or other identifying clues. In both of these tests, subjects performed far above average results.

According to psychologists like Russell, Collins is a part of a rare 1-2% of people in the world who have this special ability. This “super recognizer” title is a relatively new one, as previously, psychological research only supported developmental prosopagnosia (below average facial recognition) – now, they have reason to state that the complete opposite also exists. As a relatively new field of research, psychologists still have to discover what makes facial recognition so heightened despite other areas of photographic memory. Collins states that while he has this extraordinary facial recognition ability, he lacks in other areas of his life regarding photographic memory: he still has trouble remembering a simple grocery list.


Goldstein, E.B.  (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Bennhold, K. (2011). London Police ‘Super Recognizer’ Walks Beat with a Facebook of the Mind. NY Times. Retrieved from

Russell R. et al. (2009). Super-recognizers: People with extraordinary face recognition ability. US National Library of Medicine: 16(2): 252-257. Retrieved from

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